A Lahore court on Saturday extended the remand of 11 Chinese nationals into the Federal Investigation Agency custody for a probe into a transnational gang allegedly involved contracting fake marriages between Chinese men and Pakistani women who are later forced into prostitution and the illegal organ trade.
The cases of alleged trafficking of Pakistani girls on the part of Chinese nationals have been making headlines for several days after the FIA stepped up its crackdown against such cases. Nearly two dozen Chinese nationals have been arrested from different Pakistani cities so far. The Chinese government has also taken a notice of the situation and said that Beijing will extend support to local authorities looking into the matter. However, a statement from the Chinese embassy rejected media reports and said that there was no forced prostitution or sale of human organs for those Pakistani women who stay in China.
Today, the suspects were produced in the court after expiry of their initial two-day remand. Judge Mohammad Waqas granted the FIA's plea and extended the remand for two more days. The judge ordered to shift the two locals nominated in the case to jail on a two-day judicial remand.
During today's hearing, the Chinese nationals pleaded not guilty and said that they did nothing wrong. They said that they had come to Pakistan for business purposes. They said that the FIA taken them into illegal custody.
The investigation officer in the case submitted his initial report in the court and sought more time for completion of the probe.
The FIA had arrested eight Chinese on a tip off from Lahore. The FIA later arrested three more Chinese nationals who, according to the agency, were connecting potential grooms with local agents, who were responsible for engaging possible victims. The three were arrested in different raids from the surrounding areas of Lahore.
How the case unfolded
On May 9, the FIA had issued a press release, detailing how the agency came to know about the the suspected ring, which involves large sums of money changing hands for the contracting of fake marriages between vulnerable Pakistani women and Chinese men. The women are allegedly trafficked for prostitution in China.
According to the FIA, a woman from Lahore was married off to a Chinese national after her father was approached by an 'agent' claiming to run a marriage bureau.
The 'agent' told the father that he was in contact with some foreign individuals who had recently converted to Islam and were looking for Pakistani girls to marry.
The 'agent' said that the Chinese man would reside permanently in Pakistan, but spend a few months a year abroad with his wife, who would be helped find employment as domestic help to earn some money.
The man then married off his daughter to a Chinese man, Chan Yen Ming, who had introduced himself to the Pakistani family as Musa. He told his father-in-law that he was a converted Muslim.
Three to four days after marrying the woman, Ming took her to China, the FIA statement said. Some time later, the woman called her family to tell them that they had been conned.
She said that Musa had only posed as a Muslim and had not actually converted to Islam. She also told her family that Ming was trying to force her into prostitution and had physically abused her upon her refusal.
She also said that some people in China were running a business of luring Pakistani women into China to force them into prostitution, and that the suspects were also running an organ trade racket, the FIA press release stated.
Hearing this, the woman's father contacted the agent who had set up the marriage and was told to contact their boss Wei Lin Ping, alias David, in Islamabad.
Upon approaching the boss, Ping said that he had paid Rs2 million to the agent for the woman, and unless the father could return the money she would either have to engage in prostitution or sell her organs.
When the FIA was informed about the incident, a request was sent to the Pakistan High Commission in China, and the woman was repatriated to Pakistan.
Back home, the woman informed the FIA of the ringleader Ping's residence in Lahore. Using her tip off, the FIA conducted a raid and arrested at least eight Chinese individuals and two Pakistanis, and recovered the eight Chinese and three Pakistani passports, the press release said.
The FIA later arrested three more Chinese nationals who, according to the agency, were connecting potential grooms with local agents, who were responsible for engaging possible victims. The three were arrested in different raids from the surrounding areas of Lahore.
On May 8, Mandi Bahauddin police took four individuals, including a Chinese national, into custody in a similar case. The police arrested the Chinese national, a local woman who was married off to the suspect, and two Pakistani suspects before handing them over to the FIA.
At least five such cases have been reported in the district during the last few months. The agency has been conducting raids to recover the remaining four women who were allegedly married off to Chinese men.
Similarly on Friday, the FIA had arrested three more Chinese suspects from the Islamabad airport. The FIA's immigration cell also took into custody three local women who were accompanying the Chinese men. The three couples were intercepted as they were about to leave for China.
Last month, Chinese embassy in Pakistan had issued a statement saying that China was cooperating with Pakistani law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal matchmaking centres.
"We remind both Chinese and Pakistani citizens to remain vigilant and not to be cheated. We also welcome valuable clues to combat such offences," read the statement.
"We notice that recently some unlawful matchmaking centres made illegal profits from brokering cross-national marriages. Both Chinese and Pakistani youths are victims of these illegal agents."
The same statement, however, rejected reports about illegal organ trade and termed such reports "misleading and groundless".
On May 10, the embassy issued another statement reiterating its stance on supporting authorities against Chinese nationals if they commit a crime.
"China’s position on the issue of transnational marriage is very clear, that is to protect legitimate marriages and combat crimes. If any organisation or individual commits a crime in Pakistan under the banner of the cross-border marriage, China supports the Pakistani side to crack down on it according to Pakistani laws," read the statement.
The statement, however, rejected the media reports and quoted investigations by the Ministry of Public Security of China as saying that there was no forced prostitution or sale of human organs for those Pakistani women who stay in China after marriage with Chinese nationals.
Behind the scene cooperation
The Chinese government had sent a task force to Pakistan to carry out law enforcement cooperation with their counterparts.
According to sources, Chinese authorities had held two meetings with Minister for Interior retired Brig Ijaz Ahmad Shah — one on Thursday and the other on Friday — and expressed their displeasure over publicising the arrest of Chinese nationals in connection with the alleged bride trafficking.
The Chinese authorities made it clear to the minister that if someone had individually done anything wrong that should not be publicised by holding press conferences, because that is giving a bad name to their country.
The sources said that all the detained Chinese nationals had been visiting Pakistan on “business visas on arrival” and therefore none of them was illegal immigrant. After arriving here, they contact locals to allegedly lure young Pakistani girls into marriages.
According to sources, after the Chinese authorities expressed their displeasure over publicising the arrest of Chinese nationals, the FIA has been verbally asked to slow down the crackdown and avoid arrests unless any girl came to them to lodge a complaint.